Trillions of pieces of tiny fibers are flowing into our oceans every time we use our washing machines. Synthetic fabrics release microscopic threads of plastic. Our clothing is breaking down in the wash releasing this plastic micro fiber that drains out with the wash water. Just one fleece jacket can shed over 81,000 fibres per wash. University of California found that older fleece can shed twice as much as newer fleece. This minute fibers travel from our homes to our local waste water plants where up to 40% are not captured or filtered out, so instead they make their way to our oceans.
According to a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that microfibers pollution has significantly more that previously calculated. It is estimated that 15% to 31% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by household and industrial products, rather than larger plastic items that degrade once they reach the sea. The IUCN calculates that 35% of this microplastic pollution comes from washing synthetic textiles. Europe and Central Asia alone dump the equivalent of 54 plastic bags worth of microplastics per person per week into the oceans.
Mark Allen, a research associate at the University of New South Wales, in a 2011 study found microfibers mad up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world.
Other studies conclude micro fibers can be up to 95% of microplastics found and sampled in ocean and fresh water ways.
One problem is that use of synthetic textiles is drastically increasing.
Another problem is that plastic fibers have the potential to poison the food chain. While fibers are small, they are big enough for persistent organic pollutants (DDT, PCBs) to stick to them. One in 3 shellfish; 1 in 4 fin fish and 67% of all species tested from fish markets in California had microfiber or microplastic in them; a direct link to the human food chain (Rochman, 2015).
We need to radically rethink the way we manufacture and use what we wear but until we find solutions to eliminate this source of pollution we can be more mindful of what we buy and how often we wash.